Buying a home is the biggest purchase most people make in their lifetime. It takes a lot of paperwork to get one and it takes a lot of paperwork, with a lot of signatures, to lose one.
Three weeks ago Ingham County's Register of Deeds, Curtis Hertel, saw a 60 Minutes report about a company in Georgia that was paid by banks and other lenders to illegally sign documents used to transfer ownership of loans and foreclose on homes.
That's when he looked at his own files.
"I've always been interested in property fraud but I didn't really have a pattern to look for," said Hertel Jr.
That pattern included mortgage assignment documents signed by a fictional "Linda Green" or "Tywanna Thomas" claiming that she's a vice president or company official with several different banks including HSBC, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and more.
"We found over 60 examples of the same exact pattern and the same fraud committed," said Hertel Jr.
The way Hertel Jr. and his office were able to pick out the forgeries was that signatures on the mortgage assignment documents were far from identical.
"Beyond that, they're not even allowed to sign for the bank, so they're forging signatures of the wrong person," said Hertel Jr. "It's a fraud on top of a fraud."
This is something that goes beyond just names on a piece of paper.
"We have examples of people who've lost their home based on these fraudulent documents," said Hertel Jr. "They committed a fraud on my office and a fraud on the people."
Under state law, filing fraudulent paperwork at a Register of Deeds can get you up to 14 years of jail. Hertel Jr. is working with the Sheriff's Dept. and FBI as well as other Register of Deeds offices around the state on bringing charges against lenders responsible.